L.A. Has Big Problems—And the California Community Foundation Has Big Plans

Los Angeles has been on the receiving end of some hefty promises lately. In September, Mayor Eric Garcetti stood outside City Hall to declare a state of emergency—or war—on homelessness and promised to spend $100 million to eradicate it. Now the California Community Foundation, marking 100 years of service to the people of California, had upped the ante with a pledge of $1 billion over the next 10 years to improve the quality of life for Angelenos. Talk about an extravagant birthday party. 

CCF’s Taleen Ananian assured me that the two plans are unrelated and that timing of these two massive undertakings is purely coincidence. “Our ten-year strategic plan just ended, and in looking ahead to the next ten years, we wanted to grant $1 billion to L.A. County,” she tells me. Simple as that.

As one of the biggest funders of nonprofits in Los Angeles, and also one of the most effective, CCF is a pillar of California philanthropy. And while its funding areas are broad—arts, civic engagement, community building, education, health, housing and economic opportunity, immigrant integration, nonprofit sustainability, and youth empowerment—its focus has always remained the same: underserved, low-income populations.

Nearly 1 million Los Angeles residents live below the poverty level. Only 12 percent of our ninth graders go on to receive a college degree. More than a million residents are uninsured. Nearly 900,000 undocumented residents face significant obstacles to employment and healthcare, in addition to the threat of deportation.

Since 2005, CCF has granted more than $700 million to nonprofits representing their interest areas in Los Angeles. And while this new $1 billion commitment doesn’t necessarily represent a major shift in CCF priority areas, it will see CCF shift its giving strategy to focus on tackling systemic problems at their core—specifically homelessness, graduation rates, and health access.

“Over the next decade, we will invest in the issues that we believe will have the most impact on people’s lives and will help enable L.A. County to thrive,” said Antonia Hernández, CCF president and CEO. “Every day, our nonprofit community is taxed to do more to serve our neighborhoods with limited resources. Through this pledge, we will invest in the vital work of nonprofit organizations that are helping to transform Los Angeles.”

The announcement came last week at a town hall event celebrating CCF’s Centennial. The event brought together hundreds of civic leaders for a discussion on how collectively to build a stronger Los Angeles. The discussion centered on the findings of a “vision poll”—conducted in partnership with the USC Unruh Institute of Politics and the Los Angeles Timesthat found L.A. County residents want to be involved in their communities but don’t necessarily know how. 

Now, let’s get back to that $1 billion figure for a second.

CCF has about $1.5 billion in assets. To give away $1 billion over the next 10 years will require some massive fundraising work. And they are keenly aware of that.

"For us, it’s a stretch and we will have to go out there and work more with our donors, but we feel that we will be able to meet that commitment,” Hernandez told the Los Angeles Times. "We didn’t want to make a statement or commitment where we felt it was not doable.”

Mayor Garcetti got a lot of flack for his plan to eradicate homelessness—mostly because there was very little plan to back up the monetary commitment. CCF is also without a concrete plan, but they have a different trick up their sleeve: they do this all the time, and do it well.  

When I mentioned earlier that CCF was one of the most effective funders in Los Angeles, I meant it. In fact, it's been recognized as such by foundation watchdogs. And a lot of that has to do with its unparalleled fundraising capabilities. Many of the biggest family and corporate foundations that come to mind, like Broad, Annenberg, Packard, Hewlett, Keck, Verizon, Wells Fargo, Bank of America—all major philanthropic players in their own rights—contribute hundreds of thousands to CCF year after year.

Related: Which L.A. Foundation is the "Most Effective"?

This latest mega-pledge is more than just a promise to Los Angeles. It’s a campaign to invigorate Los Angeles’ philanthropic sensibilities and motivate funders, businesses and individuals to invest in the people and future of Los Angeles County.

Nonprofit organizations working to improve the quality of life for residents of L.A. county within CCFs program areas are invited to apply for funding on CCF’s website.  Applications are accepted on a rolling basis and selected by the foundation board four times a year.

CCF’s centennial celebration will continue through 2016 with a series of events throughout Los Angeles. The next event will engage Angelenos around the giving season leading up to Giving Tuesday.